Running the farm grainstore through harvest is never the most heavily contested job. The dust, rats and frequent breakdowns can make it a miserable way to spend the summer.
But handling and storing grain is now more important than ever with quality issues and disease control putting more pressure on how crops are held in store. Three successive tricky harvests have brought the issue ever closer to the forefront of growers’ minds.
This month’s UK Grain event at the Newark showground provided those looking at their storage options with the opportunity for some free advice.
Bill Basford, an independent ex-ADAS machinery consultant, Andrew Kneeshaw, Farm Energy Centre specialist and Bill Cragg, independent East Anglian agricultural engineer, were on hand to answer people’s questions about getting the most from existing kit and how new investments should be planned.
“In the last few years many of the questions have related to how farmers should spend their money on new facilities,” explains Mr Basford.
“But this year there was much more of a focus on making the most of what’s available.”
Many of the questions focused on how best to handle damp grain in store how deep in can safely be piled up, how best to cool it and whether stirrers are a worthwhile investment.
Here are a few examples:
Q: How high can I pile up grain without it getting hot and losing quality?
A: Without stirrers it’s really only safe to heap grain up to 3.6m (12ft) deep if you’re to avoid it heating up.
If you’ve got a stirrer – whether walk-behind or gantry-mounted – then you can take it to 4.3m without any worries.
Q: I grow about 500t of wheat and barley every year. Should I go for on-floor drying or a batch-drier?
A: That’s a relatively small volume of grain to be building a dedicated store for. Most growers in that situation would spend a bit of money converting an existing shed as a floor-store and would buy a mobile-drier to deal with it.
If you’ve got no existing shed then a ventilated-floor store might be a good route to go down. Wooden floors are fairly competitively priced (about £45/sq m or £5/sq ft) but make sure they are laid properly as nail splits can be a real issue.
Q: Should I go for a diesel or electrically driven fan for my floor-store?
A: An engine driven fan has the advantage that it raises ambient air temperature by about 4C, which equates to a reduction in relative humidity of about 16%, so it’s good for drying. However, that leaves no option for cooling as you’ll always be blowing hot air into store.
Q: Are there any grain drying systems that can use renewable energy?
A: Because the window for drying grain is relatively narrow (6-8 weeks) the set-up can’t be vastly expensive – which most renewable energy schemes tend to be. A biogas digester produces excess heat which could be harnessed to dry grain but there’s got to be another use for that heat for the rest of the year to make the investment justifiable.
Q: I’ve been told mycotoxins develop in hot grain. What’s the best way of avoiding this?
A: Get the crop dry as quickly as possible and then the number one priority is getting it down below 15C. For about £500 you can get a clever controller that senses the temperature differential in the ambient air and the crop in store and automatically switches the fan on and off accordingly – a fantastic labour saver.
For just under £500, Master Drier customers can have their machine fitted with a text-messaging service which will alert them to mechanical failure, burner malfunction or when the drier has finished its 2-2.5 hour cycle.
Visitors to UK Grain were able to put their queries about drying, handling and storage to experts like independent machinery specialist, Bill Basford.
New Windows-based software for Sinar’s AP moisture meter means that it no longer needs to be returned to the manufacturer each year for calibration. The company sends out a grain sample of predetermined moisture and the farm office computer works out the meter’s reading and adjusts according. Initially the service will be offered free of charge with a £100 a year subscription thereafter.
To avoid the usual bashes and bumps that on-floor ducts receive, Danish firm Danagri has developed these tubular telescopic versions that can be retracted from the heap before the loader goes in. Spaced 3.5m apart, they’ll reportedly condition grain piled up to 5m deep. Available in 6m-30m lengths, they cost £80-£100/m.